SURPRISING revelations have emerged that one of the North-East’s most important historic buildings could have in fact been created with the help of French stonemasons.

The discovery of sculptures near the port city of Caen in Normandy, France, suggests the early import of European labour for the building of the twin monastery of Jarrow-Wearmouth, on Wearside.

The freedom of movement from the continent, now a sticking point in Brexit negotiations, came long before the Norman invasion.

Durham University's Dame Professor Rosemary Cramp, whose celebrated excavation at the twin monastery was key to establishing Jarrow Hall, the world’s only Anglo-Saxon Farm, Village and Bede Museum, has travelled to Caen to help verify the similarities of the sculptures.

She said: “Carvings recently discovered outside of Caen in Normandy have similarities in style and design to some of the artefacts, such as the sculpted balusters, found at the site of the Jarrow and Wearmouth monasteries during our excavation work in the 1950s and 60s.

“We’ve always thought that some of the carvings found in Jarrow and Wearmouth originally came from somewhere in France, so this find may help us pin point their origin and help shape our ideas of the period, providing further insight into the 7th and 8th Centuries.

“It is part of the continuing fascination with the Venerable Bede, who is a towering historical figure, that his works are still studied and attract great interest internationally, across Europe and America."

She added: “We are very fortunate to have one of the world’s most complete examples of 7th and 8th Century monastic buildings, with its stone architecture and double halls it gives wonderful insight into the daily life of the monks during that period.”

“We believe the founder of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Priory St Benedict Biscop (c628-690) imported specialised stone masons to build Monkwearmouth church and to teach the Anglo- Saxon monks how to build Jarrow. "Although these loose sculptures have been found in northern France, no early buildings have yet been excavated on these sites.”